Category archive: Tips

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Stuck At Home Workout Secrets!

This article was written for and recently posted on ActivewearUSA – go check them out!

Arnold Nelson Photography

I’m a gym rat, so when my regularly snow-free city got a massive dump of the white stuff, I felt completely out of sync for the four days I was snowed in. Not being able to get to the gym is like having a fight with your best friend: you feel guilty, annoyed, and anxious because all you want to do is return to normal. And you can’t.

Fortunately, I didn’t allow my forced immobility to keep me from working out, but it had been a long time since I’d done an at-home workout. I was forced to be creative and re-evaluate my routine for the week and, along the way, I picked up a few tips to share:

Lacking Heavy Weights?
Increase your rep range. If you’re normally curling 25s for 8-10 reps but only have a set of 10s at home, try pushing for 15-20.

Remember, the key to effective exercise is to go to muscle failure, rather than just an arbitrary number. Therefore, do as many reps as you can until your body refuses to do another! This technique can be stretched as far as needed. For example, rather than squatting resistance, I alternated 100 squats, 50 single-leg squats, and 100 walking lunges in as many cycles as I could manage. Not only was this an effective workout, it was intense!

No Weights?
Resistance bands are a common alternative in a fitness-oriented household, but if these are nowhere to be found, head to the kitchen! Try soup cans, household items, or milk jugs. Considering that a gallon container weighs nearly 8.5 pounds when full, you can definitely create enough weight for resistance. One friend I spoke to during our snow week was front squatting with his guitar amp – anything can be used as resistance, as long as it is done safely!

No Equipment?
No problem! Turn to body resistance exercises such as pushups, lunges, squats (and one-legged squats), burpees, planks, tricep dips, and crunches. You’ll be amazed at how good you feel. Body resistance exercises are often neglected when we’re at the gym, however they are extremely effective and beneficial. They force us to actively engage stabilizer muscles and small muscle fibers that are not engaged in an isolated exercise.

Not Sure What to Do?
Workout DVDs can be extremely effective when you’re in need of a guide, but the majority are designed to require extra equipment. It might be time to dust off that DVD collection and sweat it out.

The other option is to be creative! Use your homebound status as a chance to experiment with targeting your muscles from new angles using new grips and with new equipment you may never have thought of before. You might find that your couch makes an awesome support for dips or that washing dishes with calf raises burns more than your current gym routine.

Good luck! And remember, eventually you’ll make it back outside!

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5

How to Set Effective Goals

It happens before every summer, and every new year: people will make resolutions to lose weight, eat right, and get healthy. Unfortunately, up to 88% of people fall through on their goals in record time. So how can we make our personal goals stick, and avoid the usual pitfalls? Here are a few tips to help with making effective goals on the way to any achievement:

Set Your Horizon:
Your journey cannot begin without a destination. A goal always starts with the driving factor which is the long term outcome you want to achieve. Whether its ”I want to change my eating habits,” ”I want to lose 50 lbs” or, “I want to quit smoking”, you must decide on the end point.

Make a Plan:
To create an outcome is the first step, but it is completely hollow unless it is followed with “I will achieve this by…” This is also the best time to do research. Research may include collecting healthy diet recipes, finding a workout plan that best suits your lifestyle and interests, or browsing the local gyms for one you would feel comfortable working out in. It may also include looking into the success stories of others, and asking questions: some of the best advice you can receive is from someone who has reached a similar goal. The planning stage is the best time to set a realistic deadline for when you want to be successful by. Not only does this keep you on track, it helps you evaluate your progress over time, to better understand how far you can go. (Research is also very useful for understanding what a reasonable timeline is for your specified goal).

Be realistic, and start with small goals:
Once you have determined an end point and a plan to follow, its time to plan a few pit stops. Progress does not happen over night, and small goals help gratify our successes while keeping us focused on the end outcome. If your overall goal is to lose 100 lbs, start with 15, and celebrate your achievement. Start with dropping a pant size, lifting 5 lbs more than you can at the moment, or switching to whole grains. The success of these small goals replenish our drive to reach our final destination, and encourage us through those long phases in between, where it may feel as if we are not getting very far.

Find a support group:
Share your goal with your friends and family, and ask someone to join you on your journey. Exercise partners are a great way to keep yourself accountable, and motivated! Support groups can help facilitate the research portion of your planning, share their own experiences, and help you when you are struggling. In many cases, people find that their immediate friends may not be the most supportive to their plans, but do not be discouraged by this! There are people everywhere who will support you, and you may gain new friends in the process.

Be accountable and honest:
One of the largest pitfalls associated with exercise, health and diet goals is denial, so do not be afraid to admit when you’ve made a mistake. Everyone is capable of making an excuse for why they didn’t make their workout, and we all know they’re usually tenuous at best. But the excuse game is in no way is beneficial towards reaching your goal. If you don’t have an excuse, don’t try and make one. Acknowledge your slip up, take responsibility, and move on. It is only through acknowledging our faults, weaknesses, failures and slip ups, that we are able to meet them head on and achieve better in the future.

Do not succumb to guilt:
Regret over an indulgence or a missed workout often leads to an entire guilt trip, causing the person to fall further and further behind on their goals, or starting all over, which we know can be so discouraging. Many people also consider their exercise to be, “all or nothing.” Slipping up once, means its just not going to happen for them. This is ridiculous! So you skipped the gym, so you had that cupcake, is it worth throwing everything away? Mistakes happen, and so do missed workouts. You may not feel good about it, but it is not the end of the world. Pick up where you left off, because lamenting gets you no closer to your goals. Those who wallow in guilt rather than face their problems head on are more likely to repeat the guilty action, or fall out of the habits entirely. Do not be a victim of your guilt!

Keep Track:
Write everything down. Your weight, what you eat, what weight you were using for your reps, everything. By having the information handy, not only can you see where you are progressing and have a better understanding of how to increase your intensity at a reasonable rate, but you can also see where your weaknesses are. Does your weight shoot up after a lazy weekend? Are you not eating as healthily as you should when you’re out of the house? Tracking your progress on a regular basis helps you evaluate your patterns, and improve upon them.

Reward yourself in the proper ways that promote your new, healthier lifestyle:
 A reward for your hard work should motivate you to move further, not act as a setback. There is something so counterproductive about treating yourself to sweats for succeeding in healthy eating, or taking a week off at the gym to celebrate six months of consistency. Try little treats that will excite you about your health and fitness – a new workout outfit or a new piece of equipment you’ve been eying, new supportive shoes, a day at the beach, a new supplement, or something that reminds you of what it took to achieve. Also, ensure that the reward match the accomplishment; losing that first ten 10lbs is a huge step in the right direction, but not quite worth that trip to Africa. Save that for your last ten lbs when you can show off your beach body with pride.

Most importantly, never stagnate!
Continue to make regular, active goals, even once you have achieved your milestone. The ceaseless drive to improve and the endless pursuit of success will always enrich your life. Once you have achieved your endpoint, strive for personal bests, better diet, harder muscles, anything that will keep you chasing happiness and health! The fulfillment of your triumphs will inspire others, and leave many memories for you to be proud of.

What do you want to achieve? What are you waiting for? You can do anything, as long as you make those first few steps.

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Where Are My Abs? How To Build A Great Abdominal Foundation!

This article was written for Muscle and Strength, look for it now in the January 2012 issue of Natural Muscle Magazine!

When people start working out, they almost invariably go straight for their abs. And perhaps it is reasonable – the abdominal area is where people are most acutely aware of carrying extra weight, bloat, or softness, and it is the spot almost all people want to see direct improvement.

What’s more, having a great set of abs is the primary marker of ‘fitness’ in the general world. And when the abs don’t seem to be improving any more drastically than the rest of the body despite receiving the most attention, people get discouraged and begin to think that perhaps they are just not genetically capable of building a tight, lean six pack.

However, as we should all know, there is no effective way to spot-fix a body part. Regardless of how manycrunches you may do, an isolated focus is an ineffective way to change your body, especially when it comes to your midsection.

In order to train your abs for the best results, a full-body approach is necessary. In fact, if you are carrying extra weight in your abdominal area, chances are it is not the only culprit. Bearing this in mind, there are two key concepts that are crucial to building a strong foundation for ripped abs: Engage, and Diet.

Engage:

Rather than going straight for the crunches, consider that the most effective way to see improvement in your abdominal areas is to hold off on direct and exclusive ab exercises until you have begun to reduce your overall body fat percentage. Why? Like all other forms of resistance work, ab exercise increases the growth of muscle, and muscle under fat has a tendency to look like more bulk.

This is why some people get discouraged with their middle thickness despite heavy ab workouts – they have the muscle, but the fat overtop is hiding their achievement. This is not to say ‘neglect your abs entirely until later on’, as this would be a serious detriment to your fitness goals. Strong core muscles (Abs, obliques, back, glutes, etc) are vital to all other types of workouts — without them, you could seriously injure yourself, especially while lifting.

So what do you do? You engage. Engage your core muscles in everything you do. Squeeze your core tight when you jog, when you squat, when you do jumping jacks, when you do push ups, when you lift weights, when you do pull ups, when you do ALL types of workouts. If you are doing squats and not even thinking about your abs, you are missing out on the full potential of what that move can do for your body! Is it not better to work more at once?

Abdominal engagement can be done anywhere – in the office, at home while cooking dinner, or even while enjoying your favourite evening TV show. By doing so, the strength in all your core muscles, especially your abs, will start to improve, while you are working on melting the fat from all areas of your body, and building a nice frame of lean muscle. You will be surprised, when they softness burns away, that you have a nicer, flatter stomach to work with, and finally give that extra attention to.

Diet:

Here, the old adage of “abs are made in the kitchen” truly needs to be stressed! What you eat and how you eat are fundamental to the aesthetic results of your midsection; if your diet is not en pointe, shredded abs are not going to develop. Even the fittest of people will noticeably bloat and soften when they consume something full of sugar, fat or sodium – and this shows most in the midsection.

It must be emphasized that a diet full of processed, sugary foods will be a serious detriment to the fat burning process that will uncover your strong, toned abs. If you want to have a great six-pack, your focus needs to be on eating clean, eating at proper intervals, and most importantly, eating enough! If you’re not getting enough calories to support your caloric burn and exercise activity, your body will begin to cling to fat as a survival instinct.

Eating smaller, more frequent meals that comprise of lean proteins, whole wheat or whole grain complex carbohydrates and bountiful portions of veggies are the best way to ensure that you are left feeling satisfied and energized with every meal, while still shedding fat from your midsection to reveal your abdominal foundation. So never forget to think about what you are eating, and how that one thing will reflect on your body, especially when you want to see firm, taut abs.

Overall, these two key concepts are crucial for building the best, strongest and most aesthetic foundation for your midsection. Utilizing these tricks will help you to sculpt your abs into the six pack of your dreams!

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The Insomniac’s Best Bet For Sleep!

Sleep is a fundamental aspect of our daily lives, and a key factor in our overall health. A good night’s sleep can be crucial to our successes in our fitness and health goals, our careers, our family, romantic and social lives, and so much more. And consequently, a night without a good sleep can derail everything.

As a habitual insomniac, I know firsthand how crucial good sleep can be, and throughout the years, I have learned the best tips to ensure a night of superior rest that will leave you refreshed and ready to take on the day:

Tips for better Sleep:

Use an eye pillow: The best way to ensure your body can register it is time to sleep is to create absolute darkness. Blackout curtains and unplugging anything that might glow is a start point, but it will not prevent the invasion of the early morning sun which may remind you another sleepless night has come to its conclusion. An eye pillow, however, keeps everything dark for the whole night! Not only does this make it easier to slip into sleep, it will help keep you there.

Toss the clock: To have glowing numbers glaring at you telling you just how much sleep you have missed out on is not about to help you sleep any better. In fact, the constant awareness of the time will further prevent falling asleep. If you absolutely must have the time, then it is better to wear a wristwatch with a light. It will not be staring you in the face, and you will not have to actively rise and look for it.

Give up the Caffeine: This is something that most people should be kicking, especially soda. But coffee can be just as agitating to the insomniac as anything else. Caffeine addiction not only keeps you from the sleep you need, but will inhibit the production of the alertness chemicals of the brain. This sluggish production then leads to lethargy, which requires more coffee. It is a vicious cycle, one that insomniacs in particular need to avoid, but if you are having even the slightest bit of trouble sleeping, consider passing on the latte. This is hugely important if you drink energy drinks; the amount of stimulating chemicals in an energy drink can do extremely detrimental things to your sleep patterns. Set your body right – skip excess caffeine and reap the benefits.

Set the Stage: The mind is a powerful tool. Therefore, if you have trouble sleeping, your bed needs to become a place of sleep. To read or watch TV in bed prevents you from entering sleep mentality when you get there, so to form the proper mental constructs, do these things elsewhere!

White Noise: Though sound machines with ocean or frog noises have become a cliché, white noise can be extremely helpful in aiding sleep. By existing in a space with a constant calming sound, you are less susceptible to the alertness arbitrary sound might cause. I know this is a huge problem for me as a light sleeper – anything can wake me up! Having any sort of constant white noise in the background makes that less likely.

Make Routine: Go to bed, and wake up at the same time every night despite how tired, or lack thereof you may be. Setting a schedule helps regulate your body and how it reacts at different points of the day, and will eventually lead to easier sleep. Regardless of what time I actually did (or did not) fall asleep, I get out of bed the same time every morning, as well as go to bed at the same time as often as possible. In doing this, my body is more likely to respond to the idea of sleep.

Exercise!!! A healthy body leads to a healthy mind, and a healthy sleep schedule! Rigorous, consistent exercise helps to promote the production of serotonin and adrenaline, chemicals that simultaneously help us feel more alert during the daytime, and promote a natural, restful sleep in the evening. Our bodies are designed to be used, and to be active, therefore by providing the exertion and engagement of our muscle groups that nature intended, our body will reward us with better sleep.

***Note: I have been an insomniac for 17 years – in that time I have tried everything to combat this condition. Herbal remedies, perscription and non perscription medication, physical and mental therapies, everything. Please do not insult my intelligence by assuming I haven’t heard of  an obvious solution. Thank you!

 

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Despite our best efforts, even the fittest people can fall sick.  What inevitably follows is the struggle whether or not to work out based on our condition – can we push through? Should we take a rest day? Will we make ourselves feel worse?

The best way to determine whether or not you should be hitting the gym while ill is to follow the neck up rule, which stipulates that if your symptoms are mostly felt from your neck up (sore throats and coughs, runny noses and congestion, headaches and so on), then you’re good to push through a moderate workout – modify where you need to, but don’t be afraid of getting your sweat on.

If, on the other hand, your symptoms fall below the neck (chest congestion, nausea, stomach flu, etc), then you’re better off taking an extra rest day to recover rather than make yourself any worse. The one exception to this rule that need be noted is a fever: if you have a significant fever, skip the workout to prevent overheating your body.

Follow this simple rule, and you’ll be back on the path to consistency in less time than you’d expect!

 

 

November 17, 2011 at 6:24 pm no comments
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